Arama They Didn't

2:53 am - 02/05/2013

Counselor's Harsh Words for Parents of Hikikomori: Over 30 yr-olds Are Screwed, Over 40 Are Hopeless


As the social phenomenon which goes by the Japanese name of “hikikomori” continues to grow in Japan and other parts of the world, with the first generation is now well into middle age.  Hikikomori refers to people who engage in social isolation by remaining in their homes for extremely long periods of time.

Carpe Fidem is a website which offers support to families with members who have become hikikomori. However, a column they published recently describing questions which come up during consultations with parents of hikikomori children has been stirring up controversy. In it, the counselor recommends some “tough love” style approaches and may have offended some with their level of frankness.

The column lists about 50 questions that were documented from actual consultations with parents. For the most part they are what you’d expect to hear during such a session, such as:

Q: Do you think a child’s hikikomori behavior is the fault of the parents?
A: The parent isn’t really responsible for triggering hikikomori, but if it goes on longer than it should the parent takes some blame.

Q: If a child becomes hikikomori should the parent immediately stop it?
A: Any parent would worry about their child, and you shouldn’t react immediately. However, don’t let it continue for a long time; the possibility of returning to a normal lifestyle decreases.

The counselor also maintains that the parents should set firm yet reasonable rules for children to help prevent them from becoming hikikomori. For example, setting a firm age for moving out of the family home is good, but demanding that your child become a lawyer at an early age doesn’t help at all.
Around the middle of the questions things get a little heavier though.

Q: Sometimes we see murder cases in the news where a hikikomori kid kills their parents. Could our child also be dangerous?
A: If you ignore the child without doing anything and they become fully hikikomori, trying to remove them from that can be risky.

Q: Violent cases are not rare?
A: If the hikikomori behavior goes on for a long time, acts of violence smaller than that which you see on the news happens a lot. Murder cases and assault cases are not common but equally are not rare.

Q: Why does it happen?
A: Simply, if the parent ignores the problem, the child becomes stuck in their situation. Then, if the family suddenly tries to become involved, the situation can become explosive with anger and violence. Also the older the child gets the more volatile the situation can become.

The word “stuck” which the counselor uses here is translated from the Japanese word tsunda. The word has various meanings like dense, clogged, or checkmated. The counsellor’s use of this words has caused the most hurt feelings for its tone. To use a loose analogy in English, it’d be like saying the child is “screwed.”

Due to the response to this article, the author amended their column explaining their choice of word. The main purpose was to use a word that resonated more with the younger generation who experience hikikomori. While the parent’s generation feel the word is offensive, their children relate more to it.

The counselor also repeatedly points out that a hikikomori child who misses high school and/or college education has little to no chance of obtaining meaningful work in this day and age. Therefore someone in this situation – hikikomori or not – are truly stuck.

Q: What do you mean “stuck”?
A: Generally, if the parents leave the kid past 30 years of age, the possibility of getting a decent job is gone, so they are almost completely stuck. So, during their 20s what they do determines whether they get stuck or not.

Q: What if a child remains hikikomori into their 40s with nothing done?
A: Hopeless.

Q: What do you mean?
A: You just have to accept it. Their connection to society is completely shut down. It’s sad, but at this point some families’ true worth is revealed.

Q: Each family has their own circumstances, so is it right to compare families like that?
A: Maybe in principle, but in real life a good or bad families clearly exist. Phrases like “everyone is different” and “you can’t compare” are nice to hear, but they don’t help to solve real problems. If the family is too slow to act then they have the same indulgence as the child.

Q: What’s bad about being kind?
A: The point is that the parents misunderstand what true “kindness” is. In the case of hikikomori, so-called kindness just glosses over deeper problems. They may think they’re being kind, but it’s simply avoiding the problem. The family who can solve their problem is the family who can identify and fix it. The family with no ability or desire to solve problems, meanwhile, says abstract things like “everyone is different” and “kindness is important,” and tends to be avoiding their problems.

The writer and counselor(s) in this column are unnamed but have not edited or changed their opinion since receiving complaints. The have simply defended their remarks saying that it’s okay to let a child go through a reclusive phase if it happens, but it’s up to the family to pull them out of it before it becomes so severe that they can never become independent. If not then they are truly screwed.


bubble_heart 4th-Feb-2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
i actually think the counselors are correct. if you see your kid having this problem, you might think you're being kind by allowing them to go through this "phase", but if you see it becoming more and more of a problem and don't try to help, then you're just facilitating the issue. trying to say nice things and always trying not to hurt people's feelings by glossing over the problems do not help at all, and eventually it will become an issue too difficult to handle when it could have been prevented if identified and faced ealier on. i don't think the counselors were too harsh at all.
fumine 4th-Feb-2013 10:06 pm (UTC)
I think that too.

I have a half-brother who is now a shut-in due to what he says is "depression". He's in his mid-thirties, has no uni degree even after studying for 10 years (he lied about his title, so we are not sure if we believe his claim of depression either). Basically, he doesn't want to work, doesn't want to see any people, he won't do anything as long as someone (our shared father, his mother, his grandmother) is paying for his lifestyle.

My dad told him to seek treatment. He doesn't want to. He knows our father will expect him to get himself together and start working one day, so he avoids him and cut ties. Better yet, he blames our dad who always supported him for his misery.

His mom refuses to recognize he has problems, so he can continue sitting on his butt and get money every month. Peachy...

That's why I can understand the words of the counselor. The longer you let your child continue to live as a shut-in, the worse it gets. People don't get younger and are missing out on working opportunities and relationships, especially when this continues for years.
So maybe sometimes you can't pull yourself up alone. Then the family should help and do whatever is necessary, even if it isn't pretty...
fumine 5th-Feb-2013 12:16 am (UTC)
I totally agree. Sometimes a kick in the butt is the only thing that helps.
But in my half-brother's case, as long as he has someone paying his bills the situation won't change and he can keep living this lifestyle.

My dad wants to get the mother on the same boat, but she's turning a blind eye to her son's problems. So what to do... v_v
zsutzy 7th-Feb-2013 02:23 pm (UTC)
If I were you I'd try to get a good pcychologist for him and invite him/her to your home for a chat. I don't think he will ever look for a treatment by himself. :(

fumine 7th-Feb-2013 08:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you, but it's not that easy. He was in the psychiatric ward (by himself), that failed spectacularly; he talked to at least two psychologists (one of them is my cousin), that failed too.
I can't do anything for him anymore, I'm the evil sister in his eyes. And I also don't want to anymore, because he's doing terrible things to our father.
nova_usagi 7th-Feb-2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
I kind of agree.
cleotine 4th-Feb-2013 08:46 pm (UTC)
While creating a distance between yourself and your parents and (sometimes also people of your own age) probably is normal teenager-behaviour, becoming a hikikomori points towards a serious conflict. Rather than ignoring the problem -like calling it "just a phase"- the parents need to actively seek help for their child in order to help them help themselves.
The counselors may have used harsh words, but at the end of it they are right.
asweetsymphony 4th-Feb-2013 09:00 pm (UTC)
To be honest, shutting yourself in from the world does not really solve any of your problems. I always thought hikkimoris main problem is economic in that they can't find good enough jobs like the previous generation but now it seems more like a mental societal behaviour issue in that people who shut themselves in are not able to deal with society itself.

I think a lot of them are suffering from social anxiety and depression. Parents should be patient and try to really help their children overcome this so they can integrate back to society.
___varying 4th-Feb-2013 09:11 pm (UTC)
This was an interesting read - ty OP.

Yeah perhaps the counsellor could have worded it more sensitively but it feels like it stems from knee-jerk frustration (e.g. due to him/her having to handle a constant stream of families dealing with hikikomori in the same way), and that I get. And he/she might have found that tiptoeing around the issue doesn't solve it.
inachan89 4th-Feb-2013 09:34 pm (UTC)
This was interesting.Since this phenomenon seems to be growing,i think the counselors are doing the right thing by talking straight.
baboona 4th-Feb-2013 09:45 pm (UTC)
hikikomori is straight up the result of a failing economy and the discrimination of women. men can't and don't want to be the ~sole providers anymore. and since that's what they're expected to do they forego marriage and all other social interactions that would create 'pressure' to conform to these archaic ideals.

in other words, liberate the women and you liberate the men.
age_of_green 5th-Feb-2013 04:41 am (UTC)
I'm thinking that feminism has become seen as sort of a "Western" thing, so there could be some cultural conflicts that come up for this-white feminists can't and shouldn't tell them how to do things. Though it seems some younger Japanese women are finally doing some moving and shaking of their own.
asth77 5th-Feb-2013 09:38 pm (UTC)
first, half of hikikomori have mental issues.
Second, there are men and women hikikomori.
Yes it is about failing economy, but I don't get the 'discrimination of women' part?
I don't think it's relevant at all. I think it's a generation of parents, me tality, education that is the real problem here.

... I have studied this issue and read tons of scientific articles but never heard about a feminism struggle... Where did you take that? (I'm not being rude btw, just really curious)
sad_eva 7th-Feb-2013 12:24 am (UTC)
I read the post you are referring to in the way that the strong gender roles that are prevalent in Japan could exacerbate the problem with social seclusion. Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't the stereotype of the man as the sole provider in the family and the woman being the mother at home still seen as ideal? If that is so, then that does put a lot of pressure on the man having to provide well for his family or be disgraced. I think the point that was meant to be made was that if providing for the family were more open and shared by both partners and if that was seen as socially acceptable without him losing face, it would alleviate some of the pressure and could possibly ease the fear of social interactions which could lead to having a family, kids and having to provide for them alone in men that are affected.
asth77 7th-Feb-2013 04:14 pm (UTC)
"I think the point that was meant to be made was that if providing for the family were more open and shared by both partners"
I don't believe that the issue is about being equal in gender roles.
I think that as long as the pressure of society is too strong for the young generations of japanese poeple, both gender risk to be secluded.
Yes gender equality plays a role here, like in lots of other social issues, but it doesn't mean it's the main issue. There are more male hikikkomori than females for a reason : societies expect more of men. But is it part of the main reasons of this seclusion? I don't believe so. I think that the problem is societies expect too much from new generations but because of gender roles, the first who are victims of this seclusion are men.

Plus, I don't believe that the fact there exist stay at home moms is a direct consequence of their children's seclusions. There exist a lot of stay at home mothers in many other countries in the world (and even in countries in which there are more stay at home mothers than mothers who work) yet we don't observe such phenomenon.
lovecallinearth 8th-Feb-2013 07:33 pm (UTC)
It's a very interesting theory, but when it gets down to it Japan is still horrifically behind in treating mental illness. There is still so much shame attached to it that individuals, and in the case of hikikomori families, often don't seek out or receive appropriate help. Keep in mind that up until 1987 severely mentally ill people could be institutionalized based on “Mental Hygiene Law"...YEAH.

Does the economy have an impact? Absolutely. As do stagnant, and at this point devolving, gender roles.
citrine047 5th-Feb-2013 09:39 pm (UTC)
interesting point
dramaticsurgeon 4th-Feb-2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
I remember hearing someone in Japan describe their friends--a mixed marriage in which the mother is Japanese and the father is German. Their son tried becoming a hikikomori, but when the mother explained to the father what was happening the father took a drill, unscrewed the hinges off the son's door and removed it entirely, physically picked him up off the floor and sat him at the kitchen table. That door stayed off until the kid started opening up about his problems and agreed not to shut himself away.

An extreme example to be sure, and a definite display of the difference in cultural approaches. But the question begs to be asked: how is it showing kindness to let your child isolate him/herself to the point they'll literally and physically never be able to function in society? While other countries might allow adults at 30, 40+ to return to school for vocational purposes, Japan's just not set up that way. Rather than kindness, I'd almost say they're committing a crime.

Besides, what happens to the now-adult child who has never learned to BE an adult when their parents die? Are they passed on to another family member, like inherited debt? Do they just shrivel and die too? How is that fair or kind to anyone?
agirlsgarden 4th-Feb-2013 10:14 pm (UTC)
The scenario with the German and Japanese parents is interesting - but it would only work if the parents really wanted to get involved and help their child.

I went through a bit of a reclusive phase in middle school, and my parents couldn't be bothered to deal with it. I think if they had unscrewed my door and made me eat dinner with them, it would have helped a lot - even if it just meant showing that people cared. Being ignored certainly didn't help.

I think some parents (selfishly) assume that ignoring the problem is easier. And it probably is, until their child becomes a 35 year old shut in who won't leave the house.
dramaticsurgeon 4th-Feb-2013 11:49 pm (UTC)
Haha! Maybe it's encoded into their genes to remove doors when faced with an unruly child who locks himself in his room. XD
blazingeternity 5th-Feb-2013 01:28 am (UTC)
Hahaha, I don't know about that, but that saying "going German" does have to come from somewhere. We're pretty straight with things, confront problems directly, and over here it's unheard of a kid that locks itself away to never leave again. Even more so, if a kid wouldn't go to school anymore, officials would investigate the parents and eventually take the kid away by force. I guess in most Western societies, if a child hides itself away, everyone will automatically regard it as the fault of the parents.
So apart from being all "wtf kid, you must be joking. Stop that shit and just SAY what's bothering you", protecting one's own reputation might also be a reason to solve the situation quickly.
citrine047 5th-Feb-2013 09:53 pm (UTC)
can i just say that i work mostly with German bosses, and I only have high praises for them regarding their straightforwardness in solving problems. (and i don't mean to generalize the whole population based on my experiences alone, but that's really my consistent observation)
blazingeternity 6th-Feb-2013 08:57 pm (UTC)
If you compare people of different regions within Germany, you'll find groups that are less straightforward than others. But in general I think it's accurate to call "the Germans" a very direct type of people and to me it's one of our strong points (next to timeliness & orderliness xD).
At work it's helpful and I'm kinda happy you made such a good experience, but in more private situations this character trait CAN seem really rude and reckless to members of other cultures...
frostedblossom 6th-Feb-2013 03:32 am (UTC)
My family is pretty heavily German (among other things) and this sounds exactly like what my Dad would do if I tried the same stunt. I think it must be genetic. XD
blazingeternity 6th-Feb-2013 09:05 pm (UTC)
Suddenly I have this picture of big, bulky Teutons in my head... and the genes theory starts to make sense! XD
I'm only half German but I cannot rest until things are settled. I prefer a fight over ignorance. And I grew up with the mindset that if you can confront & fight with someone, it means you care, but if you let a problem pass, then that someone means nothing to you.

Maybe a bunch of Germans need to be sent to Japan as hikikomori's-parents-counselors? xP

Edited at 2013-02-06 09:06 pm (UTC)
hanakimmie 4th-Feb-2013 10:20 pm (UTC)
Harsh comments?? I don't think they're harsh enough! These parents are obviously enablers & without their parents assistants they would never been allowed to isolate themselves like this. They provide them with shelter, food and even internet access! As the comment above states, this is no kindness to either parent or child-that's not showing love towards your child! If the person is already in their 40s then their parents must be around 60+ and may not be around for much longer. Then what will happen to these people who can't even pay a bill?

Stop cuddling them-refuse to make & bring up meals to then, take anything remotely entertaining out of their room. That comment about a father taking off the door was just brilliant! Don't give them a place where they can isolate themselves!
miriamele 4th-Feb-2013 10:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post, OP. I'm with everyone else - NOT HARSH ENOUGH! Of course parents should be involved and sometimes "extreme" language (not that I find "screwed up" really that extreme) is what's needed to drive home the importance.
umbrellaphone 4th-Feb-2013 10:41 pm (UTC)
Just gonna say there should be more acess to counselors like this in Japan, and more encouragement to.
taylorniw 4th-Feb-2013 11:32 pm (UTC)
I have a cousin in her early 20s who is like this, and I think her mom is just now realizing it isn't just a phase, but doesn't know what to do about it. :/
miamaimi 4th-Feb-2013 11:42 pm (UTC)
I sort of agree with some things hes saying, but rather than the tsunda/stuck/screw controversy this is what made me shake my head:

Q: What if a child remains hikikomori into their 40s with nothing done?
A: Hopeless.

Q: What do you mean?
A: You just have to accept it. Their connection to society is completely shut down. It’s sad, but at this point some families’ true worth is revealed.


IMO is just way harsh. Maybe they wont end up being corporate lawyers or he other "successful" examples in today society. However I think an involvement with the community is always possible. If not the big cities where individualism and detachment are much common maybe smaller towns or rural areas where the sense of community are generally stronger.

I think that what causes Hikkikomori can't be reduced to paternal negligence only. It should be treated as social issue...Community's effort where everybody tries their best to integrate again people who are lost in their lives, who believe they don't belong to anywhere
miamaimi 5th-Feb-2013 01:03 am (UTC)
tbh I wonder if the forces that make a human being voluntarily withdraw from social interaction can successfully countered by just a family. Mild cases maybe, but not something heavy. And in this complex situation time is not the only factor that can aggravate the case.

IMO, if not helped by a strong community that seeks to integrate these individuals then no matter how proactive the family is I think that all the cases will become 'screwed' in the long run. My views are that this is a social issue as well as mental health one.

I do agree that after 20 or 30 years of seclusion these individuals will not have the same the same skills as a healthy individual, but this can be said of many people who are not hikkikomori, but for a variety of reasons suffer social anxiety. Rather than have a standard of "social skills that make you a 'normal person'" we should strive for a society that everybody can interact, respecting the boundaries of each other.

What bothers me of this 'hopeless' word is that it really sounds like this person is saying "oh well don't bother, he/she is not worthy the trouble". Again, maybe they will not become nor social butterflies nor successful people in the capitalist sense of the word. But if they really become part of the community they will have a better life than if their parents set a account in the bank and let them waste away in a room. And IMO involvement in the community can assure some economic autonomy as well, in the long run.

Edited at 2013-02-05 01:05 am (UTC)
atelierlune 4th-Feb-2013 11:44 pm (UTC)
The parents are responsible, it's true - letting a child linger in the house for years upon years isn't right. But it's not right if the parents have nowhere to turn to for resources or assistance and feel ashamed for talking about it, as I take it is frequently the problem when it comes to mental illness in Japan. Also, placing 100% of the blame on the suffering individual and the parents does nothing to address the larger systems at work in Japanese society and the economy that make people feel like there's no point in going out and giving it your best - so why even try?
uledy 4th-Feb-2013 11:50 pm (UTC)
I wonder what these people would've done with my mother?

"18, you're out. you fall down? lose your job? Sorry, you're grown. Work it out."

uledy 5th-Feb-2013 12:40 am (UTC)
chibi_hime 5th-Feb-2013 04:55 am (UTC)
No lies detected, IMO.

Harsh? Yes. But what is going to happen when a 40+ year old hikkomori's parents die? Parents who allow this to happen aren't doing their child any favors.

I say this is a tiny baby step towards Japan acknowledging that they need to establish a better mental health system.
rainbow_yarn 5th-Feb-2013 09:37 am (UTC)
But why is a person's worth necessarily connected to how that person interacts with or relates to society?
nova_usagi 7th-Feb-2013 06:44 pm (UTC)
No one in Japan will hire a person that age in any kind of position that will actually sustain them financially. Without that how can they afford to live a life that affords them the time to meet people outside of coworkers who, if in part time positions, are likely high schoolers, housewives or people who are also working multiple jobs to make ends meet and thus don't have much time.
This so much.
happyaku_en 5th-Feb-2013 01:14 pm (UTC)
No lies detected here. That counselor's being honest. Honest and blunt. Seems like the people who complained are just mad that this person told them in no uncertain terms about themselves. I'm glad they're not taking their words back because it's what people need to hear. Is it nice? No, but it's the truth.
nova_usagi 7th-Feb-2013 06:42 pm (UTC)
It was a discussion topic in class years back. Over 90% of hikkikomori are men and it lasts for 3-5 years on average. And a good portion of mothers enable the hikkikomori. True hikkikomori don`t interact with family members and only emerge from their room when no one is around. Many moms think they are helping by preparing and leaving food at the door for their children to take in privacy. But if they aren`t left meals and forced to interact with family members, it`s hard to stay hikkikomori.

Even though they are adults, they need to be treated like children. If a child was doing that, you would force him out of the room and make him get treatment instead of pretending that nothing is wrong and hoping for the best.
hisjulliet 8th-Feb-2013 12:28 am (UTC)
lol this is reminding me of my 50 something year old uncle that still lives with his mother
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